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Ivanka Trump says she's 'a big believer in innovation' at CES 2020 amid controversy

The president's daughter and adviser to the Trump administration makes an appearance at the biggest consumer tech show in the world.

ivanka-trump-ces-2020

Ivanka Trump and Gary Shapiro at CES 2020.

James Martin/CNET
This story is part of CES 2020, our complete coverage of the showroom floor and the hottest new tech gadgets around.

Even as her credentials as a tech expert were being challenged by prominent women in the industry, Ivanka Trump, described by the White House as an adviser to President Donald Trump, her father, appeared on the keynote stage Tuesday at the world's largest consumer electronics show.

The goal of her CES 2020 keynote: to speak about the White House's focus on retraining workers so they can be ready for the jobs of the future. She got some cheers and applause, but the crowd was largely silent for the 30-minute keynote that was less about technology and more about the president's policy on jobs -- and mostly about what the private sector can do.

Trump co-chairs the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which is made up of tech leaders including the CEOs of Apple and IBM. She told the crowd of over 1,000 that Americans need "the skills that enable them to compete in the long term."

"It's not only about training for the jobs of the future. People need to be thinking about investing in their current workforce so that they can enable those people to do their same job using different equipment tomorrow," Trump said. "I'm a big believer in innovation and the positive impact productivity has on economy, and fighting for American dominance in the industry."

Conceding that "most of the federal government training programs don't work," she called for private industry investments in equipping workforces with new skills and in helping develop an education curriculum.

"I love always working alongside the private sector because they really help us scale up our ideas," she said.

Trump appeared alongside Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the CTA, here in Las Vegas to outline how the US government is trying to work with private sector leaders. She said she's been working on developing a national workforce strategy that will be released "in the coming months."

Trump, 38, has also tasked the board with developing what she called an interoperable learning record. 

"We need to harness technology and data to enable people to have their information in their iPhone," she said, listing high school degrees, health records and on-the-job skills such as CPR for what she called the "resume of the future."

Ivanka Trump CES 2020 keynote
James Martin/CNET

The Trump administration has a list of policies it wants to share with HR departments at companies around the country "so they can ensure they're not inadvertently screening out qualified applicants for jobs that they currently have vacant."

A four-year college isn't for everyone, Trump added, and the administration wants to "celebrate the other pathways that exist," such as apprenticeships. "We're going to launch this massive campaign that celebrates other pathways that don't require four-year college."

Trump, who also pushed a 2017 presidential memorandum on science and tech education, said there's a need to bring more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focus into American schools.

"This president campaigns on lifting all Americans," she said, adding that he also focused on "forgotten" workers. Trump referred to robotics and autonomous vehicles and how they can help in areas like truck driving. The presidential adviser said she's additionally concentrating on people who were incarcerated "prior to the internet having been as available as it is today," so programs are helping them pick up the skills they need to get jobs once they're released.

Overhauling immigration policy will also help the US grow and innovate, she said. "The president says that he thinks it's absolutely insane that we educate immigrants from across the world and as they're about to start their business, open their business become employers, we throw them out of our country," she said. "We need to recruit and retain the greatest talent in the world to help us grow and innovate, but we need to invest in American workers and reach over to the sidelines."

Trump's appearance has met with criticism from women in tech who point out that the CTA has a poor track record of giving women keynote opportunities at the four-day event, which draws more than 200,000 industry executives and over 4,400 tech companies.

"It saddens me that the CTA is using its power to promote Ms. Trump over the hundreds of qualified leaders of all genders actively working in tech," Lora DiCarlo, a sex tech startup and winner of an innovation award that was taken away and then reinstated at CES 2019, said in a statement Tuesday. "Ms. Trump is simply not the right voice to speak for the tech community."

Tech analyst Carolina Milanesi wrote in a column on Forbes on Dec. 31 that choosing Trump for the keynote "is all that is wrong for women in tech." 

"There are many more women who are in tech and are entrepreneurs who could run circles around Trump on how technology will impact the future of work," Milanesi wrote. "I don't think I am unfair in believing that Trump did not stop and think if she was the best woman for the job before accepting the invitation from the CTA."

Shapiro defended Trump's appearance at CES 2020, telling the BBC Sunday that the focus of the keynote will be "how industry is working with government on this very important issue."

Originally published Jan. 7 at 2:12 p.m. PT.
Update, 5:52 p.m.: Adds more quotes.

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